- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Angst, rumors and an unsavory plot: A media brouhaha is unfolding at ABC News as a triumvirate of senior anchors confront rumors of their undoing by Disney executives said to favor entertainment value over old-school news.
Yesterday, a USA Today story claimed ABC's "This Week" hosts Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts would likely be replaced this fall by "rising star" George Stephanopoulos and Claire Shipman in an effort to woo a younger, broader audience.
The network quickly struck back.
"A report today concerning the future of ABC News' 'This Week' is false," ABC said in a statement. "We have enormous trust, respect and admiration for Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. 'This Week' remains an important part of the ABC News schedule with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts as hosts."
However, Mrs. Roberts shocked many in the media establishment yesterday by confirming that she will leave as co-anchor of "This Week" in the fall because, as she put it, "I want a life."
The veteran journalist said she made the decision 18 months ago during contract renegotiations with ABC.
"We've started very preliminary conversations about what other role I might play at ABC," Mrs. Roberts said.
Meanwhile, USA Today said that it "stands by the story," and backs writer Peter Johnson.
"Everything I reported was either confirmed or revealed to me by an on-the-record ABC news executive who I identified in the story," said Mr. Johnson by phone from New York yesterday.
Indeed, Mr. Johnson quoted ABC news executive Paul Friedman as saying, "Everyone is in favor of having a New York element or a non-Washington element."
Meanwhile, the travails of "Nightline" and its host, Ted Koppel, continue.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that ABC's late-night news show born 22 years ago during the Iranian hostage crisis had lost "relevancy," according to an anonymous ABC executive. Mr. Koppel and his 30-minute program had been trounced by 24-hour cable news channels, the Times said, and ABC hoped to lure habitually disgruntled CBS late-night host David Letterman into the slot, bringing advertising revenue with him.
Multiple, instant analyses appeared in print and television, suggesting TV news would change as "aging warhorses stepped down" and outmoded network news was sacrificed "for more-profitable entertainment."
A Newsday report connected conspiratorial dots to float the notion that CBS leaked the story to the Times to "embarrass ABC."
In addition, CNN's Lou Dobbs suggested his network hire Mr. Koppel while Barbara Walters herself temporarily bounced from ABC's "20/20" spoke out on the matter on the network's "girl" show, "The View." ABC's treatment of Mr. Koppel "as dispensable and irrelevant is thoughtless and hurtful," she said.
Yesterday, Mr. Koppel, said to have discovered his potential fate just hours before the New York Times hit the newstand Friday, penned his own analysis of the situation on the Times' op-ed page. His goal, the Times noted yesterday, was to "choose each word precisely."
"The eulogies have been wonderful, but premature," Mr. Koppel wrote, ultimately concluding that ABC had lousy timing: "When, in short, the regular and thoughtful analysis of national and foreign policy is more essential than ever it is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, malicious to describe what my colleagues and I are doing as lacking relevance."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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